Rumors Swirl in Pakistan Bhutto Murder Theories Used as Political Tool

Al-Qaida, the secret service or a contract killer sent by President Musharraf? A gun shot, bomb shrapnel or a fatal blow to the head? Wild theories about the death of Benazir Bhutto are making the rounds in Pakistan -- and are becoming levers of political power.

By in Karachi, Pakistan

The news from the United States caused quite a stir: Hillary Clinton, a Democratic candidate for the US presidency, hinted on Sunday that the Pakistani military could be behind last week's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Previously, she said in an interview that "there was no reason to trust the Pakistani government."

All of Pakistan is wondering who was behind the assassination last Thursday of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Many doubt that the case will ever be solved.

All of Pakistan is wondering who was behind the assassination last Thursday of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Many doubt that the case will ever be solved.

Khalid Hussein, a supporter of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is pleased by the high-level doubt in the US. Standing in front of the party headquarters in Karachi he says: "Now the Americans will finally get rid of this damn Musharraf." Another party supporter nods in agreement. He is wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, in Urdu: "I am ready to give my life for the Bhutto family."

'I Never Claimed That'

The theory that Musharraf's military killed Bhutto, however, is just one of many circulating in the country these days. Every party in Pakistan has its own version of what really happened last Thursday. And yet, it's not even clear yet exactly how she died. Was it the result of gunshots fired directly at the politician by a man -- clearly visible in television footage -- behind her car? Or did splinters from the bomb that exploded shortly afterwards actually kill the 54-year-old, as many Pakistanis believe. According to this theory, the shots were only fired so that people would flee and clear a path for the suicide bomber to get closer to Bhutto.

The Pakistani government initially claimed that the bomb's explosion caused Bhutto to hit her head on the lever of the car's sun roof, thereby cracking her skull. It was only on Tuesday evening that a government spokesperson said that this theory would now be reassessed on the basis of "new evidence." The announcement came soon after the physician who examined Bhutto's body, Dr. Mussadiq Kahn, had contradicted a report according to which the politician had died due to a blow to the head. "I never claimed that," Kahn said.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's newest most powerful man, considers the government's initial version of events as absurd. "Just look at the lever, it is made out of rubber," he said. There was no way it could cause a fatal injury, he said. His supporter in Karachi, Hussein, backs him up: "God made the human skull very hard. It doesn’t break so easily," he says. The investigators were bribed and pressured by the government anyway, he adds, making their story worthless. "Hillary Clinton said that too," he claims.

'Misused for Political Purposes'

The government vehemently denies this. "I won't comment on the alleged comments by Ms. Clinton," a spokesman for the Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "These are malicious claims, whose only aim is to destabilize Pakistan." To say that the Pakistani military is somehow involved in Bhutto's murder is "simply ridiculous." He added: "We expect top politicians in the US to refrain from making comments that could be misused in Pakistan for political purposes."

There is, say journalists and lawyers in Pakistan, no shortage of groups looking for just such a political lever to gain more power. "Across Pakistan there are ethnic, religious and political groups who want more independence for their own regions," says Jamal Awsal, a lawyer in Hyderabad. Bhutto supporters, he says, are among them. "They suddenly hate the province of Punjab because Bhutto was killed in Rawalpindi in Punjab," he says. "That is how crazy the arguments have become."

According to Musharraf's opponents, there is a lot to indicate that the government was involved in the assassination. Why, they ask, only hours after the explosion, did security forces wash away the blood stains at the scene of the crime and destroy evidence? There is no trace of the headscarf Bhutto was wearing when she died -- perhaps because it would be able to prove that at least two shots hit her in the head? The few items that were retrieved are in the hands of investigators who are loyal to the government. Why, they ask, has Musharraf not mentioned the murder since the day of the attack? Does he have something to hide?

The president did say that the murder showed that terrorism was still the biggest challenge facing the country. But the government has shown restraint in firing accusations at the Islamist extremists, in order to avoid denting its popularity in religious circles.

Election Postponement

For PPP supporters the most important argument in favor of the theory that the government planned the murder was the fact that Bhutto herself had repeatedly said to those close to her that Musharraf wanted to kill her. "Benazir knew who her enemies were," Khalid Hussein says. He doesn’t accept the critique made by the parties loyal to Musharraf of Bhutto's widower Zardari, who buried her within 24 hours according to Muslim tradition, and did not allow an autopsy. "It would be undignified to hand over her body to her enemies," Hussein says.

The PPP is also accusing the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, of manipulating ballot materials. But that isn't stopping the party from demanding that elections take place as soon as possible. There is a huge wave of sympathy for Bhutto and the PPP, already Pakistan's biggest opposition party, would likely come out on top. The elections were originally scheduled for Jan. 8, but the election commission announced on Wednesday that the election would be postponed until February 18.

Most Pakistanis still blame militant Islamists for Bhutto's assassination and for the chaos that has gripped the country in its aftermath. "The attack bears all the hallmarks of extremists," says the lawyer Awsal. "Most people think this but it isn’t being said openly," he says. "Who wants to become an enemy of the mullahs?"

Musharraf, he points out, cooperated with the Islamist extremists from the time of his takeover in a military coup in 1999 up until the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US. "That was when a baby was born that has now turned into a monster, even if the government doesn’t feed it very often any more," Aswal says. You can't put anything past the religious fanatics, he says.

It is possible that we will never know who was really behind the murder of Benazir Bhutto. "Anyone who knows Pakistan knows that political murders in the country are never solved," Awsal says.


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